The Houthi spokesman said that the group’s fighters hijacked the ship, which is said to be owned by an Israeli businessman.
The Houthis in Yemen announced that they had taken control of an Israeli-owned ship in the southern Red Sea, and Israel described the incident as an “Iranian terrorist act” with consequences for international maritime security.
A Houthi military spokesman confirmed to Al Jazeera on Sunday that his fighters had hijacked the British-owned and Japanese-operated cargo ship.
At least 22 people were on board the Galaxy Leader ship – reportedly partly owned by an Israeli businessman – which was en route from Turkey to India.
“We have received confirmation from a Houthi official that they hijacked this ship. Earlier today [Sunday]They announced the start of operations to attack ships flying the Israeli flag. “They have warned international sailors against working in such companies,” Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Al-Attab said in a report from the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.
“We treat the crew in accordance with Islamic customs and principles,” Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said in a statement issued later on Sunday.
He renewed the warning that any ship belonging to Israel or those supporting it will be a legitimate target for the Houthi forces.
He added: “We confirm our continuation of military operations against [Israel] Saree said: “Until the aggression and heinous crimes against our Palestinian brothers in Gaza and the West Bank stop.”
The Houthis, backed by Tehran, have launched several missile and drone attacks against Israel since the start of the latest assault on the blockaded Gaza Strip on October 7, killing more than 12,300 Palestinians, including 5,000 children.
He added: “The Houthis carried out a number of attacks on Iranian targets. “We expect more attacks in the coming days,” Al-Atab said.
The Israeli government described the hijacking as an “extremely serious event on a global scale,” with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office saying that Israel was not involved in the ship’s ownership, operation, or composition of its international crew.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office said: “This is another Iranian terrorist act that represents an escalation in Iran’s aggression against citizens of the free world, with attendant international repercussions for the security of global shipping routes.”
“There were no Israelis on board the ship,” she said, adding that the 25-member crew were from Ukraine, Mexico, the Philippines, Bulgaria and other countries.
The Israeli army also denied that the ship was Israeli. “The hijacking of a cargo ship by the Houthis near Yemen in the southern Red Sea is an extremely serious incident with global consequences,” she said in a statement on the X website.
“The ship left Turkey on its way to India, carrying civilians of different nationalities, none of whom were Israelis. The Israeli army said it was not an Israeli ship.
A US defense official said the United States was “aware of the situation and monitoring it closely.”
“What we understand is that the shipping company is partly owned by an Israeli businessman and this would not be the first time one of his ships has been intercepted. In 2021, one of his ships was also targeted,” said Sarah Khairat from Al Jazeera in occupied East Jerusalem.
Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Tehran, said there was no evidence provided by Israel that Iran was behind the kidnapping.
She added: “This is an accusation made by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office without any concrete evidence to support it.”
The war in Gaza led to escalation of tensions in the region, with international organizations and political leaders warning of the possibility of a broader regional conflict.
“Iran has in the past distanced itself from these various armed groups in the Middle East that are anti-Israel,” Jabbari said.
“But given Israel’s ongoing bombing of Gaza and what they call ‘genocide’ against the Palestinian population, the Iranians say the conflict could spread.”
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